Interislander ferry, Picton to Wellington

I had to check my blog to find out, but I had travelled on this ferry before. Then, I used the intercity bus pass, which just charges you the hours the crossing takes. With a single fare around $50 for a 3.5 hour crossing, while passes are around $8 per hour, it’s a cheaper option.

Not as cheap as free, though, and my crossing was covered, along with that of the SUV beast I was driving, by the rental company, via the transfercar website. Loading was slick, too – the ferry left on time, yet not much more than half an hour before, all the car and campervan traffic had been parked in lanes on the land.

Last time I went North-South, which leaves the scenic part to the end. I preferred this way; staring out at the green, tree-lined shores, wondering at life in the houses which can’t have any road access, then settling in for the rest of the crossing wherever I could find a seat.

Blenheim parkrun, NZ

Blenheim parkrun route

New Zealand’s courses are more of a mixed bunch of routes than Australia’s out-and-back dominated ones, but Blenheim would fit nicely into Australia, being a pure out and back. It’s scenic, for sure, running alongside the river, helped by a bright sunny day on this January Saturday.

Blenheim start/finish
Blenheim start/finish.

It is also almost completely flat, and only the turn around is a sharp turn, the rest gently turns to follow the course of the river. It is also a fairly small event, with 49 runners when I did it, and 77 their record. All made for a perfect parkrun, runners spreading out along the course, out of the way of others using the park.

Chase the 250
Chase the 250 – turned out to be Andy Lane.

Beforehand, the run director took some photos from the bridge above the start, which should be featured photos on their underused Facebook page sometime soon. Then he gave the briefing, and joined in for the run itself, which made for a busy morning. It’s a friendly and inclusive event, as they all are, but smaller numbers makes it easier to socialise afterwards, and the scenic location is great for a warm up. I stayed at a hostel I picked at random – location didn’t matter because I was moving a car from Christchurch – but anywhere in Blenheim is only a maximum of a couple of kilometres from the start, so you won’t need a car.

Hagley parkrun, Christchurch, NZ

Hagley parkrun route
Hagley parkrun route.

There are two stories to my parkrun Saturday, both are true. In one, the short one, without drama, I travel to Hagley park, wander to the start, whip off my clothes to reveal my running kit underneath, am in time for the briefing and run it. It’s a hot day and I haven’t warmed up, plus my achilles is giving me gyp, so it’s not a great run, but I’m pleased my flight was not delayed and I can make it to the start.

Hagley parkrun, runners streaming by
Hagley park, runners streaming by – record attendance of 352, both for here and NZ.

The other one, as an adjunct to the above, has me chilling out at the airport before 6am, having cleared immigration very quickly. A quiet airport plus an early morning made for a seamless progress. I was there early enough that I would have considered walking into town – it’s a good 8km or so to the run, if not more, but that’s doable, and better than ‘running’ with my bigger bag on my back. And there are buses, so that would have been possible.

Instead, I chilled out, charged my laptop, browsed the web, etc., then wandered outside at about 6.45. Because I was waiting for a lift! For some reason, on Facebook I had ticked the ‘going!’ box on Hagley park for this Saturday, and that had been spotted by Hannah. Hannah is based in Auckland, but was in Christchurch for work this very weekend, and she suggested she could come and get me and we’d both go to Pegasus parkrun. Well, why not! We messaged, arranged it, I promised to be in touch if I was late, and that was that.

Landing to early morning messages from Hannah was encouraging, though it did give me a moment of ‘cor, I couldn’t get in that late and get up again happily’.

At 7, I was relaxed. “7ish”, she said. 7.10, I think, was when I started to think “hmm, how long do I leave it?”, and I tried ringing her. At 7.15 I walked back to the terminal to get some cash, before heading back to the drop off area and ringing again.

Sure by now that it wasn’t just me standing in the wrong spot, I sent a quick ‘abort!’ message and walked over to the taxis. The driver was very glad of the business, given he’d be

en waiting a couple of hours (for any fare, not tracking me specifically around the airport), so we had a good laugh about that.

I was there in time, only slightly flustered when faced by a huge park and no obvious start line – I had a little jog, but had 10 minutes or so before the start. Hannah was hugely apologetic – mostly I was just glad it wasn’t my fault (I suppose it couldn’t have been, but my mind wondered if I’d somehow done something wrong-and still, she offered to do me a big favour, and now the favour wasn’t working out, and that doesn’t count as letting someone down to me), and glad I still got a run in. I had had a moment of just thinking ‘shall I just wait here and not do a parkrun?’, but that would have been fine had the plane been late but, for my psychology, not so much with it landing nearly on time (despite a late start while they reconciled the bag count). At times like these, and there haven’t been many, I think “how much do I want to do this parkrun, and is that amount sensible?” The answer has so far always been “enough to catch taxi/get up a bit earlier/run from this delayed train”.

Hagley parkrun finish
Hagley parkrun finish, volunteers in control.

They had a big old crowd of people, ending up (as the run director had publicly hoped before the start) in both their and parkrun New Zealand’s record attendance, of 352. The course is a figure of 8, on a good flat surface, with just a couple of tight turns to slow you a bit. Plus with that number of people, most standards of runner will have someone to push them along. Last week, I led in a group, this time I was mobbed and passed by one right at the end – from swing to roundabout, or something. Plenty of facilities in the park, if you need them, and it’s a great place to explore on your warm up and cool down. Or on another run, in my case, as I chatted to a couple of runners (mostly about religion, as it turned out – finally, something I could blame Hannah for, her fault I have been approached by this man wanting to find out the religious temperature in London and, I suspect, to see if this was an opportunity to spread the word), then grabbed my bags and strolled into town to my hostel.


Gungahlin parkrun, ACT

Gungahlin parkrun course
Gungahlin parkrun course – arrow marks the wrong turn.

I had the car till 11, so could head to any ACT parkrun, with three of the four roughly equidistant from where I stayed in Downer. All looked good – similar fields, beautiful locations. Gungahlin won my vote, on the basis that I’d head to Burley Griffin while sightseeing, and Ginninderra has been done by a fellow tourist already, and isn’t a loop. I suppose Gungahlin isn’t a pure loop, as you cross the start and do another 200m or so to the finish, but it’ll do very nicely.

Yerrabi pond
Exploring the route beforehand. Sri Chinmoy may run races here.

I arrived nice and early to make sure I could park – partly to avoid panic, mostly to avoid embarrassment while faffing with the automatic. I walked into the park at the same time as the run director who commented on my 250 shirt, then realised he knew me – we ran together at Railton before Christmas, he was the Canberra visitor that day. We didn’t chat much on either occasion, but now I see he has run 30 different parkruns, including his recent tourism burst in Tasmania, so that was an opportunity missed.

Gungahlin parkrun crowd gathers
The crowd gather at the start – 323 finishers on the day.

Still, he did a mighty fine and relaxed job as RD on the day. Just one thing that might have been good – give the marshal on the bridge (where the arrow is, not coincidentally) a couple of instructions. More later.

The run loops round Yerrabi pond, on a tarmacced track that might be shared with dog walkers and cyclists, though we didn’t see any today. A blessing with 300+ runners. It’s scenic, for sure. There would probably be some shade, and it’s pretty flat, so it could be quick, though in the summer you might get a head/tail wind as we had today, or very hot temperatures – running there in winter comes highly recommended by the run director. Today was a glorious day in Canberra. About 25 degrees at the highest, therefore cooler in the morning, but still plenty sweaty. I’ll take it, though – it was 35 or so yesterday.

I set off reasonably well up the pack, but was a fair way back – I start slowly, and also still can’t judge where to stand, so was a little too far down the pack. The run today had visitors from a training group, or something – 6 unknowns among the 8 ahead of me on the day, anyway, there for a speed session, but either not registering or not wanting to put their name to it. Officially, then, I was first in my age category, but might not have been, and I was beaten by the unregistered first female runner – who was out of sight.

As I worked my way through the pack, targeting an older bloke who I’d heard say he was aiming around 20 mins, I found myself in a pack of 3 fit ladies. They were being paced to 20 by a lanky runner who seemed to be pacing himself. Certainly he had plenty of ability to push on, and breath to talk, though his pb isn’t much quicker. Selfless every week, perhaps. Motivated by beating as many of them as possible, I ran through, and headed that group, with everyone else out of sight.

Running up to where the arrow is, the two runners ahead disappeared across the bridge. I had time, as if in slow motion as I approached his position, to watch the marshal leave his spot by the bridge (bear left) and nonchalantly nudge a sign round (bear right). Go past the bridge, it seemed to say. I pointed that way. He did nothing. I ran onto the bridge. So did three or four people behind me. We got a loud shout from another runner, and turned round to join the right course.

The sign was clear. The marshal was not. Perhaps he didn’t actually know. A classic ‘you had one job’, to stand there and point right, but no complaints on a free run, and at least I ran the full course. As a pack formed temporarily while we reoriented and those behind had time to catch up, there was a little chat about Steve being in a lot of trouble for cutting the corner. I heard him later talking about the results not lying. All good fun. Though results do lie if people run different courses. Not that any of them were scanning in anyway, so it really mattered even less than it normally would (which is not at all, to my mind).

Gungahlin parkrun
Nearing the home stretch, sub-20 pace pack behind me (more spread out than I remember them being).

A little demotivated, I worked to get to the head of the pack again, and it was here that I realised the tall bloke was pacing, and at least one of the female runners was really chasing the sub 20. Two of them got it, including one who had never run that quick before. The other has a much quicker pb, though hasn’t run that fast recently. I think the third was another non-scanner, perhaps disappointed at being slower than potential.

I managed to hold them all off, despite tired legs, motivated by being able to hear footsteps and the pacer motivating them from behind. They had actually spaced out a fair amount as we came along the section pictured above – here we turned left, into the last km, downhill and with a tailwind, all of which was motivation enough to get going, quite apart from the footsteps behind me.

A lovely run, though tough when pushing on a warm day. I had a brief chat with my RD near-chum, ran around the reserve a bit and pushed off to shower before returning the car and sightseeing while in town. Perfect parkrun, once again. That’s my 23rd Australian parkrun, and I’ve now run in 7 of the 8 states. I had 11 in 5 states before I came on this trip, adding Tasmania and now ACT this time.

Bondi to Coogee walk, Sydney

I stayed one more night in Sydney (thanks, Justin, Chantal, Freya, Saxon and Willow!) and took advantage by heading into the city to see the famous beaches I had so far missed, despite being here twice. Last time I concentrated on the city, this time I’ve been in Manly, up to Palm/Whale beach (the former is where Home and Away is filmed; I spent my day at the latter).

There’s a great walk from Bondi-Coogee, or v.v., so I wandered from Bondi Junction down, then along the walk. It was overcast but still warm – still better than the 40+ degrees the other day, when the walk would have been a bit of an achievement. As it was; sweaty, but straightforward.

Bondi, seen from the sculpture park.
Bondi, seen from the sculpture park.
Bondi beach.
Bondi beach.
Walking from Bondi
Walking from Bondi – as are many other people.
Waverley cemetery
Waverley cemetery. The walk would normally take you by the sea here, but a landslip in 2016 is still being repaired.
Coloured rocks.
Coloured rocks.
Coogee beach
Coogee beach.

Mosman parkrun, NSW

Mosman parkrun route
Mosman parkrun route – 3 laps, with a sting at bottom left, a short, sharp hill to run up.

When I arrived, my host Justin suggested we’d head to Curl Curl parkrun on Saturday. That’s a lovely, flat and fast, parkrun – and I know that, because I’ve done it before. I had mixed feelings – I like to repeat parkruns sometimes, because it makes the touring less obsessive. Equally, I like to go to new ones because, well, they’re new, and that itself ticks many boxes.

Later in the week, perhaps remembering my previous “Wahey! New parkrun!” posts, Justin suggested Mosman, which was not much further away from home in Manly, and reliably has smaller fields. At the mo that usually means around 50 people, though our turn was a boosted field of 97. It’s pretty narrow in places, and would struggle to take too many more if they weren’t spread out.

Justin, me, before the start
Justin, me, before the start.

It is in part a looped course, starting on the grass, heading South, down towards the bottom left of the map above, where the course’s elevation sits. Only 24m on the whole course, but 8m (give or take) of that comes in the short, sharp, hill at that turnaround. A hill that starts attackable and ends survivable. And you run it three times.

Mosman parkrun route
Mosman parkrun route, beauty point on the right.

We got a photo before the start. The course looks over Sydney’s second-poshest suburb. A view over one’s boats from those houses; lovely.

Mosman parkrun
Chasing second place down (got him, though I was later passed by another).

After heading out on the grass and bashing up the hill, the course comes back on the track pictured.

View towards Sailor's Bay
View towards Sailor’s Bay.

And here is the proof of that. Just look how much sunnier it got just half an hour or so later. This was the day before the heatwave that took temperatures up to 40+, and a 7am start, but it was still pretty warm.

I was pleased with the run – slower than on some other courses, but it felt like a good 5k, and a tough one thanks to that hill. It really is the ‘scorpion sting’ I saw it described as, and makes a mostly flat course surprisingly tough.

On New Year’s Day I got onto Australia’s most events table. Browsing that table I was surprised to notice that the same was true of David Piper, a fellow UK tourist.

Australian parkrun most events table.
Australian parkrun most events table.

It turns out that he has also been to Australia before, and came back last year.

David’s most recent runs – in country a little less time than me.
David’s most recent runs – in country a little less time than me.

That made me all the gladder to have been taken to a new run, keeping in step with the Piper for a little longer.

Later I was at the SCG. England fans visited in hope more than expectation, and were rewarded with the day of Australian batting we had feared. Still, the SCG was a vision in pink to celebrate Pink Test day. It’s a magnificent thing – pink stumps and bails, police in pink caps, all the Milo kids at lunch in pink (rather than the usual mixture of pink, green and yellow outfits).

SCG, Milo kids, heightening the pink theme.
SCG, Milo kids, heightening the pink theme.
SCG, pretty in pink.
SCG, pretty in pink.

Walking from Manly to Northhead

I set off to walk from Manly beach to Spit bridge. That would be, I found out later, a 10km walk. In the end, I got distracted by Northhead, a promontory in between Manly beach and the bridge, which adds a few km of walking and a few hundred metres of elevation. Once up there, you can explore the barracks and old military emplacements, and get some great views out over Sydney.

Manly Dam park.
Manly Dam park.
View from Northhead.
View from Northhead.
Me, selfie
Me, wind blown at Fairfax viewpoint.
View through trees over cliffs and sea
View through trees over cliffs and sea.
Sydney looks distant – not so much in person.
Sydney looks distant – not so much in person.
View over Sydney.
View over Sydney.
View from the visitors’ centre, Northhead.
View from the visitors’ centre, Northhead.

Once I’d walked back down – via a lovely sandy bike track, then a steep road – I was back to crowds of people enjoying the sun and mobbing Manly itself. Relative peace was easy to find by following signs to the Spit bridge walk, though, with quieter beaches and shaded spots around the corner.

Delwood beach – this one is small and quiet compared to Manly
Delwood beach – this one is small and quiet compared to Manly.
Looking over Manly.
Looking over Manly.

New Year’s Day is parkrun double day – Coburg and Darebin, Melbourne

Coburg parkrun route
Coburg parkrun. An out and back (with hills).

New Year’s day is the only day (now) that we’re allowed to run two parkruns in one day (barring the odd anomaly). There are plenty of doubles in the UK and Australia, and my main task at the beginning of December was working out where these unfamiliar-sounding places were. Australians probably have the same problem – if you live in Western Australia, you’re miles and miles from Melbourne, so might think that Coburg is somewhere near you. I wasn’t even sure where I’d be – when I was here last, Newcastle, NSW, was the nearest place for a double, and I was in Victoria, so this time I wanted to make sure to be near one, but that still involved picking one. At any rate, the tool Rikki Prince has published was very helpful. I decided on Coburg and somewhere after I’d booked my accommodation in Coburg for Christmas Eve, so then saved Coburg for NYD, ending up running a bit further, to Studley, for Christmas Day. Luckily, I could stay in the same place on NYE, so that left a walk to Coburg in the morning.

Pentridge prison
Pentridge prison, on the way. Now being redeveloped.
Coburg parkrun pre-run briefing
Coburg parkrun pre-run briefing; leafy.

The run is renowned for its hills, and didn’t disappoint. Otherwise it’s a twisty, testing out and back, on a good surface. I didn’t push too hard, but got more into the groove towards the end, and thoroughly enjoyed a run in warm air.

Plenty of people were up for a double, some heading down to Maribyrnong, some across to Darebin. I headed straight off to Darebin, trusting google maps to get me there. Which they did, via some nice cut throughs turning it into a diagonal 4 miles rather than a longer straight one. The excellent Dave, who I’d met and chatted to at Studley, asked a couple of times whether I’d taken Murray Road. No idea, just whatever google told me to do (yes, at the start of my route, then those cut throughs came into play for a runner – not for him, on the bike).

Darebin parkrun route
Darebin parkrun. An out and back (with undulations). Murray Road also shown.

I was at Darebin by 9, ready for a 9.30 start. By now the sun was out and it was getting warmer, albeit with a cooler breeze to give some relief. Where Coburg had set a record attendance, with 223, Darebin had their second-highest ever, with 202, so there were plenty of people listening to the briefing, but not so many that we couldn’t find space to run in. Darebin is a similar course, an out and back with some lumps, though it’s a little easier than Coburg. It’s on an even better, if hard, surface, if anything. I ran harder, fairly happy with the fact that I could still push despite tired legs, but all that was put into perspective as I was passed by a man in jeans, cruising.

Man in jeans, running
Jeans! And he went away from me easily.

Still, I ran my own run, and it was good. Couldn’t catch the man with a buggy ahead of me, but finished higher up and happy to now be on the Australian most events table, with 21 different runs done. Someone had called out at the beginning that parkrun royalty was in attendance, in Neil Barnett, who has completed 57 more than the closest chaser, with 205. It would have been rude to say ‘um, actually…’ so I didn’t mention it. I hoped to catch him for a chat/to flash my credentials at the end, but was busy talking to Dave about Murray road.

After we’d stood around chatting for a while, my legs were stiff for the jog back, and this the longest. Still, I ended on a high. Walking across a wobbly bridge near the end, who should be at the other end, but Dave? He laughed, and we were both a bit confused as to how I had got there before him, given he was cycling.

Something to do with Murray Road, we decided.

Darebin parkrun
Darebin parkrun. 1st couple: 1st male, second from left. 1st lady, next to her son.
Darebin parkrun finish
Darebin parkrun finish.

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